Marketing Mondays: 6 Degrees of Representation

[This is the last Marketing Mondays post of the year. Reports from Miami will begin later this week and continue throughout December. MM will resume on January 3, 2011. ].

 We're talking gallery representation, not rocket science, but this picture does make a point, which is that while the sun is that big hot thing in the middle of the solar system, there's plenty going on in the outer orbits

So you’ve got a painting in a gallery show for the first time. Or a new gallery has taken a work of yours to an art fair. What’s your relationship to the gallery? Are you represented? What do you owe the gallery and what does it owe you? Nancy Baker suggested this excellent topic. Let me see if I can do it justice.

1. Represented Artists
You’re a represented artist if you’re on the gallery website and included in the regular rotation for a solo show. In a gallery that represents 20 or 30 artists, your rotation may not come up more than once every three years, but a gallery that is working hard to represent you will find ways to keep your work visible: online, in the viewing room, with a special project, with inclusion in the occasional group show. You probably have some kind of contract with the gallery—a written document or verbal agreement—that defines your mutual relationship. (Contracts: the subject for an MM post in the new year.) Typically there’s some degree of exclusivity, regional perhaps, and an understanding that the gallery gets first dibs on your new work.

2. The Inner Circle
If “represented artist” is the center of concentric rings of representation, the "inner circle" of representation is the center of the center. Artists who sell well, or with whom the dealer has a good relationship, may find they get more: a better time slot, an ad (or a larger ad) to promote a show; a review because the dealer goes to bat extra hard for the artist; their work featured at an art fair; inclusion in a special project. Chances are that if you’re one of the gallery’s “difficult” artists—always late with deadlines, never happy with anything the gallery does, you know the personality type—you won’t be part of the inner circle.

3. Affiliated Artists
Now let's move to the first outer ring. Not every artist exhibited by a gallery is represented. Sometimes the artists are listed as Affiliated, Invited or Guest Artists or another such designation, and sometimes they're not listed at all. The status is intentional on the part of the dealer, and it may be equally intentional on the part of the artist.

“Including an artist in a couple of group shows over time is an opportunity for me to try out new work, to see if collectors respond. It’s also a chance for me to see what it’s like to work with a particular artist,” says a New York dealer who asked not to be named. “Since many artists, especially new or younger artists, don’t always understand the nature of the relationship, we make it clear when we invite them to participate in a show that ours is a ‘limited partnership.’”  
Has an artist ever made the jump from exhibited artist to represented artist? “Occasionally,” says the dealer. “But it’s different with every gallery.”
Speaking from my own experience, I have good collegial associations with several galleries that have shown my work more than once. For a gallery it’s a good way to show a lot of artists without the commitment. For an artist so involved, it’s a good way to show widely and increase the network for sales without being tied down. In short, it’s like dating before you get serious. Typically there’s no contract involved and little in the way of post-exhibition responsibility to the gallery, though if you are approached after the fact by someone wanting to acquire a work that was shown, let the gallery make the sale. And definitely keep the gallery apprised of solo shows elsewhere, of reviews, of other recent achievements. Everybody likes a winner.

Also from an artist’s point of view, it’s a chance to see how the gallery performs for you. Does the gallery pay to have the work shipped there? Do they handle it carefully? Do they return your phone calls or emails in a timely manner? Do they find ways to include your work in their projects? Do they sell the work you send them? Good!  Do they let your work go out with careless consultants who return it damaged? Do you have to send a stream of emails before you get a response? Not good. You don’t want to continue an association with dealers who reveal themselves to be less than totally professional.
4. Tangential Representation
Not every relationship is destined for gallery representation or affiliation. There are many perfectly legitimate tangential associations. Here are two examples:
. You had an affiliation with a gallery that is now closed. The dealer may now be working as a consultant, or directing a curatorial program. You may find yourself included in projects as a result of the relationship.  I had a relationship with a short-lived gallery in the Midwest that resulted in a several good gallery sales and a big post-exhibition commission. I’ve remained friends with the owner, who is no longer in the business of selling art—but his friends buy art and he has brokered a few sales.  
. Your work was sold by a dealer as part of a package to a client.  A hard-working art dealer might put together a selection of works to show a client, often a corporate consultant who is looking to acquire a number of works of a specific type for a large project. To complete the package, the dealer may borrow work from another gallery, usually one whose owner she is friends with. You might be an artist whose work was included this way. (When the sale is made, Dealer #1 and Dealer #2 split the 50% commission.) It’s also possible the dealer found you as the result of an internet search or through the recommendation of a gallery artist or perhaps even the client himself. 

Sometimes tangential relationships develop into something more; sometimes they remain tangential. If you are developing a “portfolio” of representation (another topic for an upcoming MM), the tangential relationship, cultivated as such, can be beneficial to both you and the dealer. I would not expect to be working with a contract in this situation, just a consignment agreement.

5. One-shots
When a gallery curates a thematic show, it often invites artists working outside of its orbit, so to speak, to participate. (Postcards are a great way to bring your work to a dealer's attention.)  Congratulations if you've been invited. It’s always nice to have your work shown in good company by a good gallery. One-shot inclusion can be a way to fatten your resume, broaden your network, break into a new city. You never know who’s going to see your work in the venue.  Attend the opening, make new friends, and enjoy being part of the exhibition. A contract should be for the duration of the show; that’s all.

Given the economic climate, it’s wise of dealers to expand their parameters with new work and new artists. It’s also wise of an artist in this situation to understand the nature of the relationship, which is that it is unlikely to lead to something more permanent.  (Again, like dating.) But you never know . . . .
6. Inventory
You have work at a gallery—prints, let’s say—that sell well to consultants and corporate collectors. You’re not listed on the gallery’s roster, perhaps not even included in group shows, but your work fits a niche for the gallery’s sales program, and you get a check regularly.  This may not be the relationship you want with every gallery, but it's not a bad relationship to have.

(If you are more well known, you may find yourself "represented" by a gallery that shows your prints. The gallery probably acquired the prints through the publisher. In this scenario even Picasso is an inventory artist.)

If you show widely, you probably have different relationships with different galleries, represented by one, perhaps, and showing occasionally in another. In an upcoming MM I’ll talk about the “portfolio” of representation you might develop. What? You think only galleries can have a roster?  

Over to you: Artists, tell us your experiences in the solar system of representation. Dealers, please tell us about those outer rings from the gallery's point of view. Anonymous comments welcome.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this breakdown Joanne. This is something I have been dealing with for the past year. After moving to a new city two years ago, an average gallery took interest so I started showing with them. It was VERY casual and I intended for it to be a limited agreement after a two-person show. Soon thereafter, my desired gallery included me in a group show and put me in their inventory. I was upfront with them about my scheduled show with gallery A and they were okay with that. They said they were a gallery that didn't believe in "representing" artist or having ownership over individuals. Right. But they continued to remind me about having work in another gallery. After my two-person with Gallery A, I moved on. Honestly, I was glad to leave that space even though they sold some work.

Now, my desired gallery has an exponentially increasing list of exhibiting artists that they are "controlling" without promises. I am one of them. They sell a piece every six months and keep saying they want to come by my studio, but never have time. I am definitely an "Inventory" artist, but feel like I a represented artist. Being affiliated with this gallery is good for conversations with collectors, but I know I'm getting shoved around. For now, I have left my work in their inventory and started pursuing representation in other cities.

I feel that my work is becoming more ambitious and I'm getting attention, so I don't want to ruin a relationship that may have started prematurely. But I need to figure it out soon.

annell4 said...

netcomGreat post, sorted things out.

rebel belle said...

Good post Joanne. These days things are even more complicated. None of this is really static. Your place in a gallery's slot can change, and will change. Very few artists are going to always be at the top of the heap. Fads, styles, fame changes everything, and it's kind of a wild roller coaster ride.

Joanne Mattera said...

Right you are RB, it is a roller coaster ride, but until we get holographic video blogging, the categories remain fixed on the cyber screen.

I do think that communication and professionalism goes a long way to maintaining the good relationships, and to developing the tangential ones as well.

Thanks for the idea to write about this.

Chris Neyen said...

Thanks for another great 'Marketing Mondays' post. It is very complicated, intimidating and at times confusing.
Reminders about communication and professionalism are well taken.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for the breakdown. With one gallery, I held up my end of the bargain, and more, but early on, lost confidence in them to return inquires from potential collectors, make deadlines, promote the work, or follow through with professional gallery business. My first show rec'd a great review, but I was the one who sent out press releases. I'm not a difficult artist to work with but I expected the gallery to hold up their end of the bargain. It got to the point that I was wary of telling people where to find my work because I've heard back from people who weren't able to get in touch with them. I jumped in a relationship too soon, thinking it would be better to be represented than not. I still have some work in their inventory, but asked for most of it back and am pursing representation in other cities as well. I try and tell myself it's not personal and I've heard horror stories from other artists who have it worse, but it's a huge disservice to the artist to be "represented" by a gallery only to be marginalized, whether it's intentional or due to apathy.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks for this excellent and very interesting analysis. It certainly neatly summarises all I know about gallery representation.

Joanne Mattera said...

Oh, let me repeat this comment from Anon 11:59:
" . . .it's a huge disservice to the artist to be "represented" by a gallery only to be marginalized, whether it's intentional or due to apathy."

You have that right!

Dealers: Please jump into the conversation. Tell us what it's like from your side of the desk.

Kathryn Willis said...

A very helpful post for the artist just beginning that search for gallery representation. Navigating the solar system is pretty complicated.

Anonymous said...

Great post Joanne. So many comments are right on target.

Rebel belle: absolutely right--speaking from personal experience, anything can change at any time.

Some dealers will be loyal no matter what direction your work moves in, others may gently (or not so gently) withdraw their support.

Dealers and artists want different levels of commitment and although the gold standard is representation and exhibitions, one size does not fit all. A gallery-artist relationship that starts out on an 'inventory' only basis with no commitment for exhibitions may nonetheless be lucrative. An exhibition without the dealer doing timely and worthwhile publicity or sales can only take you so far.

So yes, as a painter I try to be realistic and professional about what I expect with each gallery relationship. Sometimes it is better than expected, otherwise you need to know when to move on.

Leslie Neumann said...

JM, Great post, thanks. Every "serious" artist should watch the fabulous movie "Untitled." I have never laughed so hard and been so freaked out all at once. It really speaks our language.

Charles said...

Nice post.
Please write one for the different types of galleries out there; poster/frame gallery vs. hip trendy gallery vs. ???
And qualify the galleries an artist should try to be in and types one should avoid.

Joanne Mattera said...

I'm not writing about what you call poster/frame galleries; and and hip/trendy is too broad and subjective a term. The rest of the information you asked for is already posted in a MM. Check the MM posts from 2010 and 2009--list and links on the sidebar.

Charles said...

Thanks for reply.
To quote you:
"In an upcoming MM I’ll talk about the “portfolio” of representation you might develop. What? You think only galleries can have a roster?"

This is what I was referring to in my earlier comment. Each gallery is different; an artist could/should have a different level or type of representation in each gallery in different countries - from poster galleries to the higher end galleries.

Michele Fraichard said...

Thank you Joanne and everyone who took time to comment and share their experiences. I've begun searching for gallery representation and I'm certain this information will prove invaluable and timely. I imagine many artists are so glad to be offered 'representation' that they'll look past the warning signs or fall into something without really understanding. I mean, nobody's first gallery is going to be on the level of Saatchi..but I suppose it doesn't have to merely be a leap of faith either.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for such a great Art Blog! "Marketing Mondays"is helpful and right on. On a couple of different posts, however, it has been mentioned or inferred, that a gallery which is doing their job correctly with an artist they represent pays for shipping of work to the gallery. I have never had this happen. All the galleries which represent me are reputable and well respected, and sell my work well, and do a very good job of posting my work on their sites, etc. However, the shipping costs to the gallery can be devastating, especially for a west coast artist shipping large work in wooden crates to the east coast. Do you think this is a deal breaker if all other aspects of the artist/gallery relationship are positive? Thanks for your thoughts on this....

Joanne Mattera said...

There's no standard when it comes to shipping. Some dealers assume the cost of shipping work to the gallery; others don't. Some pay shipping for their gallery artists but not for one-shots. When sales are good, a dealer is more likely to assume more expenses than when money is tight. I have passed on opportunities to show my work with particular galleries because I felt that their shipping terms were too onerous.